When I send proposals to open source conferences these days, I generally offer two ideas. One will be based on an open source topic that I’d like to explore. The other is a session of yoga.
During the recent three-day DevConf at Brno in the Czech Republic I dropped the talk altogether and just did three sessions of yoga. Every morning of the conference I had people breathing deeply, clearing their minds and adopting poses very different from the ones they usually strike at their desks. The session’s title: “Is Yoga Open Source?”
So, what’s the connection between the two?
As it turns out, open source development and yoga have a lot in common. Indeed, yoga was open source long before we had the term – you could even call it the very first open source project. It’s a practice that you work at and can get better at, just like open source development. It’s always changing and improving as people add to the body of knowledge and adapt it for their own needs. And no one owns it or gets all the credit for it. It’s simply a very useful thing built over time by a global community.
But yoga isn’t just an interesting historical antecedent to open source development—it’s also a practice that can help us do better open source work. If you want to work hard without burning yourself out, you also need to know how to relax your body and mind in order to recharge. Yoga offers us a powerful tool for doing just that. That’s the basic message I try to share in my sessions. Here’s what I usually do:
We start with people introducing themselves to each other and saying a bit about why they are at the conference. It helps break the ice and is a great way to increase their chances of running into some friendly faces while they’re attending the other sessions.
Next, we do some stretching and I explain what happens to our wrists and hands when we work on our keyboards. We run through some exercises that help prevent hand and wrist injuries and then move on to others that help the spine counter the negative effects of sitting. Lastly, I talk about the mind and how things like breathing exercises and meditation can help you think more clearly. I explain that the brain is like a muscle – we need to keep it in shape.
One aspect of meditation that’s especially relevant for developers is that it can help you concentrate for longer periods without getting distracted. When you’re coding, that’s very useful. I don’t claim to be a great expert in these things—a lot of the people who attend my sessions are experienced yoga practitioners and I encourage everyone to share their own experiences with the group.
I’m also not the only one to recognize the benefits of yoga and meditation to open source development. Conferences have been bringing in experts to offer attendees yoga and similar relaxation classes for a while now. I think what I can offer is an insider’s understanding of the kind of stresses that we’re looking to overcome and compensate for in our yoga practice.
I started doing this a few years ago when I worked at RedHat. I wanted my team to have an alternative to spending more time at their desks watching videos or playing games when they were taking a break. So, I’d get them to stand up out of their chairs and do some simple stretching. This turned out to be a popular activity, so I added breathing exercises as a way to still our minds and help us see our way through mental challenges more clearly. It wasn’t long before I was offering sessions at conferences.
In yoga there is a theory that we are all one big community and that we should therefore help each other and be kind to each other. From that follows the idea that if you learn something, it’s good to share it with others. Open source has the same values and they serve as my motivation for offering yoga and meditation at conferences. If you benefit from the work of the community, it’s good to give something back.